BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Who else missed that kind of big game atmosphere at Assembly Hall?
In front of a packed crowd in Bloomington, Indiana (3-0) continued its undefeated start after a physical, nerve-wracking two-point win over the St. John’s Red Storm (2-1).
Mike Woodson started his usual quintet of Xavier Johnson, Parker Stewart, Miller Kopp, Race Thompson, and Trayce Jackson-Davis. It was the same five for St. John’s and their coach Mike Anderson as well, headlined by preseason all-Big East first teamer Julian Champagnie.
Champagnie, who averaged 19.8 PPG last season and has recorded 21.0 PPG this year, drained the first bucket of the game, a three from the right wing. Johnson answered with his own triple, and the two teams were off and running.
Indiana’s starting lineup gave the Hoosiers a 12-10 lead before the first substitution. Rob Phinisee came in as the sixth man, and with 12:58 left in the first half, Tamar Bates entered.
Bates stole the show for IU in the first half. About a minute after his arrival, Bates grabbed a rebound and scored a basket on the ensuing possession to put IU ahead 16-10. His constant impact forced Woodson’s hand; IU’s head coach could not remove him from the game.
Indiana continued to extend its lead, primarily through tenacious defense. During a 6:44 scoring drought, St. John’s missed eight straight field goals. After the Red Storm snapped the scoreless streak, Bates imposed himself on the game.
The freshman from Kansas City hit a midrange shot, swished in a three, and knocked down another basket. His effectiveness and energy elevated Indiana to a a double-digit lead.
One of the contentious moments came on a hard challenge by Montez Mathis on Trey Galloway with 6:45 left in the half. Mathis, a transfer from Rutgers, unintentionally raked across Galloway’s face and pulled Galloway down all in one motion.
The officials offered an extended review of the play, and deemed the infraction worthy of a flagrant-two foul. Mathis was ejected from the contest. Galloway did not return for the remainder of the game. The BTN crew caught Galloway’s wrist taped up on the sideline.
IU led for 18:30 out of the 20 first half minutes. IU’s largest lead was 14 at 39-25. Bates led all scorers with 11 first half points.
St. John’s displayed a revamped level of execution coming out of halftime. Champagnie unleashed the full bag of tricks on Indiana, showing why NBA scouts drool over the 6-foot-8 guard. He slammed in an alley-oop and knocked down two threes, the second of which brought St. John’s within 49-46.
Champagnie got to 20 points on that shot. He has double digits in every game since the start of last year, a 30-game streak. He has at least 20 points in all three games this season. He finished with a whopping 32, one short of his career-high.
IU’s lone highlight in the first eight minutes of the second half was Jackson-Davis recording his 1000th point on a free throw. Jackson-Davis became the 54th Hoosier to accomplish that feat, last done by Al Durham on Senior Day last season vs. Michigan.
Turnovers and missed free throws plagued Indiana throughout the second half. It was a bugaboo that Woodson and his staff will intend on fixing the rest of the season. Woodson said after the EMU game he would “punish” his players with some practice drills if IU turned it over frequently; that’s coming before IU’s next game. The mistakes allowed St. John’s to tie the game on two Posh Alexander free throws with 8:49 left.
IU needed someone to step up; Jordan Geronimo raised his hand. The sophomore nailed a right side three to reclaim the lead. He subsequently grabbed a rebound, recorded a steal, made a second-chance basket, and swooped down the baseline for a reverse layup. That sequence gave Indiana seven-point lead with 6:06 remaining.
Champagnie would not let St. John’s go down easy. He hit a three to tie the game at 65. After Jackson-Davis and Thompson scored back-to-back buckets, he knocked down another three to make it 69-68. A jumper with 11 seconds to go brought the Red Storm to within 75-74. Champagnie finished with a season-high 32, one short of a career-high, which came last year at Creighton.
Indiana would finish the game with just enough in the tank to bring home the win. After a Johnson free throw put IU up two, Champagnie fumbled the ball thanks to hounding defense by the two unheralded players of the game, Geronimo and Bates. An awkward three glanced off the rim, and Hoosier Nation could celebrate a 3-0 start.
Up next for Indiana is another home game against the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns on Sunday, Nov. 21 at 7:30 PM on BTN. Louisiana is 2-0 including a true road win, 66-45 at Southern Miss. Two of their best players are high-major transfers: Jordan Brown (Arizona) and Greg Williams (St. John’s). KenPom projects a 78-63 IU victory.
Featured photo: Collin Ebel / IndianaHQ